Updated January 12, 2009
Stacey asks Tim –I recently went out to dinner and was presented with a Dessert Wine List, which was a little bit intimidating because I don't know anything about dessert wines. Can you provide a little insight without getting to technical? Thanks, Stacey of Nolensville
As all libations, dessert wines are a matter of personal taste. One thing you should know is that all dessert wines share the qualities of sweetness and relatively high alcohol content (17 to 24 percent). But beyond that, they vary greatly. Though sweet wines have long been under appreciated and overlooked, their sales in the U.S. rose 61 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to the Sweet and Fortified Wine Association.
Dessert wines fall into two categories. Fortified wines—which include port from Portugal, port-style wine made in other regions, sherry, and Madeira—have spirits (generally brandy) added after fermentation to kick the alcohol content and sweetness up a notch. Unfortified dessert wines, such as ice wine and Sauternes, derive their flavor and relatively high alcohol content from the not-yet-fermented juice being concentrated through various methods. Fortified wines are served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Ice wines and wines like Sauternes are best served very cold.
Purists insist that dessert wines are dessert, but many diners like combining them with dishes that bring out their nuances. A dessert wine should be as sweet as the dish it accompanies, and match the flavor.
Is there one dessert wine that will please everyone at a table? I would say your best shot is Moscato d’Asti. But come on in and see me and we can discuss which dessert wines might be fun for you to try out and become acquainted with. After all who doesn't like dessert?